What does it mean to blaspheme the Holy Spirit? Is it possible for a Christian to commit this unforgivable sin? Let’s consider this together.
There’s something in us that is hardwired to behave and believe as though we have to clean ourselves up in order to come before God. For those who aren’t (apparently) completely opposed to Christianity, this is a major stumbling block. For so many it seems like a copout—but for others, it’s something else. “It’s too good to be true. Even if Jesus can save the worst of us, surely that can’t include me.” But Spurgeon reminds us that the good news is so good it can only be true—and the salvation offered is good enough for even you:
You sinners—I mean you real sinners, not you who call yourselves by that name simply because you are told that is what you are, but you who really feel yourselves to be guilty before God—here is good news for you! O you self-condemned sinners, who feel that if you are ever to get salvation, Jesus must bring it to you and be the beginning and the end of it, I pray you to rejoice in this dear, this precious, this blessed Name, for Jesus has come to save you—even you!
Go to Him as sinners, call Him “Jesus,” and say to Him, “O Lord Jesus, be Jesus to me, save me, for I need your salvation!” Do not doubt that He will fulfill His own Name and exhibit His saving power in you. Only confess to Him your sin, and He will save you from it. Only believe in Him, and He will be your salvation.[1. Charles Spurgeon, Spurgeon Commentary: Galatians (Logos Bible Software)]
In December, 1915, the Norwegian freighter Kwango was on a voyage to deliver its cargo—wood—to Buenos Aires. The ship never made it to its destination. She was wrecked off Brion Island, in St. Lawrence Bay, on December 12th. The locals salvaged what they could of the cargo and with it, they built a church, St. Peters-By-The-Sea.
That church building still stands today, though it has since fallen out of use as a place of worship. Instead, there’s a movement to restore the building and transform it into a museum which would honor all who’ve lost their lives at sea near the Magdalen Islands. Despite the change in use, there’s something fitting about the circumstances of how this church building came to be, isn’t there?
A church built from a shipwreck.
There’s a sense in which every church is built like this one. From material salvaged from wreckage. The difference is the material is each one of us—the people who make up the church. The wreckage is the mess we’ve all made of our lives because of our sin. All of us have gone astray, and turned our backs on our Creator. No matter how good or bad we appear to be on the outside, this is true of all of us. And yet, this is how Christ builds his Church—something which exists to give him praise and glory, and to reflect something of himself to the world. He plucks us from the wreckage of our sin and makes something beautiful out of us.
How can we not be thankful for this?
Sharing how God saved you is a rewarding exercise, but it can also be challenging. Some people love to tell the story—but some of us find it difficult. This isn’t because we are ashamed of Christ, though. It’s because how it happened was kind of… weird.
Recently, Emily (my lovely wife) felt compelled to start writing down her story. She had planned on asking our church if she could share it there. Instead, Christianity Today got in touch and asked if she’d be interested in sharing it in the testimonies segment of the magazine.
Her story appears in the October 2015 issue, and is now available for you to read online:
Heading to college in London, Ontario, I was eager to be a grown-up. And the ultimate marker of my new independence, I thought, would be joining the Bahá’í faith. A local assembly met in Caledonia, and some of my closest friends were raised in Bahá’í homes, so I was already familiar with the faith. I remember leaving Bahá’í events buoyed by the leaders’ optimism about the future: no more war, poverty, or racism. One language, one currency, and equality of the sexes. It sounded perfect.…
According to the tenets of the Bahá’í faith, all major religions before 1863 were founded by “Manifestations of God.” So Adam, Noah, Krishna, Moses, Abraham, Zoroaster, Buddha, Jesus, Muhammad, and the Báb are all manifestations, with Bahá’u’lláh being the final and complete manifestation. The most appealing belief to me: a new order led by Bahá’í leaders that would usher in world peace.
Since I had managed to be so good at everything else, belonging to the religion that ensured perfect order seemed the right step. But I quickly found myself falling short of its requirements. I struggled to pray the long, obligatory morning prayer. I skipped ceremonial washings because I didn’t understand how to perform them.
It didn’t help that I had started dating a non-Bahá’í a few months after joining.
Sharing a personal story like this is not easy, but I am very proud of Emily for following the prompting she felt to do it. Please read her story and if you believe it will be a blessing to someone you know, I hope you’ll share it with them.
My series at For the Church, “Letters to a New Believer,” continues. The first post addressed the dangers of rushing into leadership roles. The second takes a step back to look at getting grounded in the Bible. The third, is my encouragement to tell the story that’s yours:
We tend to follow a pretty standard three-point summary:
- what your life was like before becoming a Christian
- what happened to draw you to Christ
- what your life is like now.
I’m pretty sure that there’s no Christian who couldn’t divide up their story in this fashion.
But that doesn’t mean our stories are meant to fit neatly into a template.
The first time I realized this was when I tried to share my testimony in Honduras. It was 2006, I’d been a Christian for just over a year, it was my first missions trip, and it was super-awkward. It wasn’t that I didn’t know what happened (though I did), nor was it that I was particularly uncomfortable in front of a crowd (though I was). What made it awkward was the way I was telling the story wasn’t right.
Remember the standard three-point summary? Well, usually when you hear it, it goes something like this:
“Before I was a Christian, my life was a mess. I was living for myself, joyful on the outside but empty on the inside, numbing my insecurities with drugs, alcohol and/or sex with random strangers. One night, things reached a breaking point—I hit rock bottom—and I gave my life to Jesus. After that, I realized I’d found what I’d been looking for and now I’m living my life for him, serving in my church and found an extra five dollars in my coat this morning.”
Okay, that probably came across a little cheeky, but I don’t mean it to be glib. When I hear how God has brought someone to this obvious breaking point, and taken them through the proverbial fire, and when I see how their lives have been changed through their relationship with Jesus Christ, I am so thankful. But not everyone has an obvious rock bottom moment. And for some of us, the story doesn’t get better at the end.
When it comes to reading, I like to plan ahead. I usually have a goal of about 100 books that I want to read (which is goofy, I know); it’s enough that it requires significant commitment, but not so much that it’s completely outside the realm of possibility. However, as 2015 has progressed so far (granted, we’re only 2.5. months in), I’ve noticed my reading has slowed down drastically compared to years past. Where I normally I would have read somewhere around 20+ books, I’m only at—gasp—18.
I’m about two weeks behind in my Bavinck reading (and have already adjusted accordingly). I’m not quite finished a book for school that I really should have completed a few days ago (because it’s an easy read and I’ve been lazy). Thus, I’m feeling a bit dumb. Why? Because I’m “behind.”
And, yes, I realize it’s dumb to say thats behind. According to Gallup, only 28 percent of Americans read more than 11 books in a year, and 23 percent don’t read even one book. That is terrifying. And yet, for book lovers, and particularly the Christian blogging crowd, we have this weird love affair with books, as though our value is determined by how many books we’ve read or reviewed this year.
Again, I know this is dumb. And yet so many of us seem to be guilty of it.
This is a reminder for me that pride and the desire for self-justification have no preferences. Whether something profound or trivial, wherever pride can get a hold, anywhere we can start to think we’re kind of a big deal, it will. But in the end, like other silly sources of comfort and joy, it always fails. Some dude is always going to be further ahead on his reading challenge on Goodreads. We’re going to get busy. We’re going to get bored.
And that’s fine. Just don’t beat yourself up over it.
God doesn’t love us more or less based on whether or not we get through all the books in our “want to read” list. Our righteousness before God is not based on how well read we are or are not.So don’t panic! Justification by works doesn’t work, this we know, for the Bible tells us so. And justification by reading doesn’t work either.
You have heard it said, “Pray like a Calvinist and work like an Arminian”—or, “pray as though everything depended on God, but work as though everything depended on you.”
But I tell you, this silly nonsense should never be heard coming from the lips of a consistent Evangelical Protestant.
The reason is simple: aside from being stupid, it’s heresy.[1. This is to say nothing of the overly simplistic treatment of Arminian theology.]
This realization hit me as I continued my trek through Bruce Shelley’s wonderful Church History in Plain Language. There, as he writes about the founding of the Jesuit order, the Catholic Counterreformation, and the Council of Trent, he explains:
Luther, Calvin, and Grebel stressed salvation by grace alone; the council emphasized grace and human cooperation with God to avoid, in [Ignatius of] Loyola’s terms, “the poison that destroys freedom.” “Pray as though everything depended on God alone;” Ignatius advised, “but act as though it depended on you alone whether you will be saved.” (Kindle location 5346)
One should quickly and easily see the problem with this kind of thinking.[2. And those following the recent sanctification debates should also recognize the similarity between the Catholic position shown in Trent and the arguments of many seeking to combat incipient antinomianism.] Whether we’re using this concept in thinking about our own growth in godliness, encouragement to fellow believers, or in ministry to the lost, it is a failure to recognize that everything does depend on God, both in prayer and in practice.
Praying as though everything depends on God is right and true—but we also must work as though everything depends upon Him. Because everything does.
This is the truth of Philippians 2:12-13—that, as we work, God works through us. This is the reality of John 15:5—if we abide in Christ, we will bear much fruit. But apart from Him, we can do nothing. This is the fact of John 14:12—that we who believe will do the works Jesus does![3. Greater ones, even, since He is with the Father!]
There is no dependence upon us to get things done. God is not passive. Nor is He is impotent.
We work, knowing that it is God who works through us. We are instruments in the hands the master craftsmen, and joyfully so!
A cute soundbyte makes for a memorable quote, but if we don’t think about our words, we may also be acting as accidental double agents in the pulpit.
Word of advice: if you ever want to set a pack of Max Lucado fans, address a concern about some of this theology.
A few years ago, I reviewed his book on social justice (it was also, outside of a kids’ book I received about a year back, the last of his books I read), a book that had some good points, but was kind of weird. Strangely graphic descriptions of temple guards that read like a cross between the movie 300 and something you’d find in a non-Amish romance novel, his typical lackadaisical attitude toward doctrine, and, most alarmingly, an extremely deficient view of humanity’s real state before God.
“Of course, no one believed in people more than Jesus did,” Lucado wrote. “He saw something in Peter worth developing, in the adulterous woman worth forgiving, and in John worth harnessing. He saw something in the thief on the cross, and what he saw was worth saving…”[1. Max Lucado, Outlive Your Life, p. 138]
Never so quickly have I underlined a phrase in a book. Oh my stars… how such a statement that runs so contrary to the gospel saw the light of day, I’ll never know (wait, that’s not true, I do know how…).
And that, of course, is what set off the Lucado fans.
Reading Titus For You by Tim Chester this week reminded me of the weird goofiness we have surround the reason why God loves us and why God saves us. Why do I describe it as weird goofiness? Simple: we have a really, really hard time taking what the Bible says at face value. Just consider the following:
In Genesis 6:5, we’re told that “The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” And then He killed everyone except Noah and his family.
At the end of Judges, the writer laments, “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25). The context makes it clear that everyone doing “what was right in his own eyes” is a very, very bad thing indeed.
Jumping along, with incredulity and awe, the psalmist writes, “what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?” (Psalm 8:4)
Proverbs 20:19 declares, “Who can say, ‘I have made my heart pure; I am clean from my sin’?”
On and on the Old Testament goes. And in the New Testament, this message gets even more intense.
Jesus declares that we are evil (Matt 7:11, Luke 11:13) and he did not entrust Himself to people because “He knew all people” (John 2:24). We love darkness and hate the light and are condemned because our works are evil (cf. John 3:16-21). Paul even goes so far as to spend the first three chapters of Romans unpacking this major issue, culminating with, “For there is no distinction; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…” (Rom. 3:22-23).
Anyone else sweating a little?
Let’s be honest: that’s really bad news for us, because if we’re looking for things about us to make us worth saving—in our actions and attitudes—then we’re pretty much up a creek.
So what are we to do? Are we to just wallow in despair, or is there something we can hold on to?
Here’s a great encouragement from Chester:
“He saved us … because”. The word “because” is key. Here is the reason for our acceptance by God, the grounds of our confidence and the basis of our hope. It is worth asking ourselves: How would I complete the sentence, “He accepts me because…”?
Everyone answers that question somehow. If I think I will be saved because of something I have done, then I am not saved. I can have no confidence. Our acceptance before God is: “Not because of righteous things we [have] done” (v 5). Saving faith involves removing faith in ourselves. It involves stripping away confidence in anything except God. “He saved us … because of his mercy”. That is our true and only hope.”[2. Tim Chester, Titus For Us (The Good Book Company)]
Why does God save us? Because of His mercy. His mercy shows us His glory. His mercy makes much of His name. His mercy is what sent Jesus Christ to take our punishment on the cross—not because we were lovely, not because we deserved it, not because we were worth it, but because He is so magnificent.
That’s why grace is so amazing. Why, oh, why, would you want to settle for anything less?
You wouldn’t think that two little words would carry so much weight, would you? Yet, it’s on these two words that so much of the Bible—even the gospel itself—hinges. Casey Lute gets this, and in “But God…”: The Two Words at the Heart of the Gospel, he walks readers through the Scriptures to show us just how important these words are.
And important they are. Over and over again, we see in Scripture how “But God” serves as a turning point in God’s saving work among fallen humanity. Indeed, Lute writes, “It is the perfect phrase for highlighting the grace of God against the dark backdrop of human sin” (p. 5).
From the flood account of Genesis 6-8, to the Exodus and God’s preservation of His stiff-necked people, the promise of a better sacrifice in Jesus Christ and His resurrection from the dead, to His saving for Himself a people from among all the nations and his preservation of them until the end, “But God” lies at the heart of all God’s work in history. These words show us how God saves, the salvation He offers and how He applies that salvation to His people.
In a word, it’s grace.
Lute does an exceptional job of illustrating this reality, particularly in the earliest chapters of the book as he delves into the flood account. Often, we hear or read the story of Noah as little more than “Noah was a good man among a sea of bad men, so God used him to build the ark.” Lute is quick to observe that this is not the case. He writes:
[T]he flood story is about God’s grace. Even the first significant statement made about Noah tells us more about God’s grace than about Noah himself: “So the Lord said, ‘I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.’ But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord” (Genesis 6:7–8). The word “favor” might not seem especially meaningful to us, but the Hebrew word translated here as “favor” can also be translated as “grace.” In fact, the King James Version translators used that very word, “But Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord.” (p. 15)
I’ve heard a number of preachers make this point—that “favor” can be translated as “grace.” That understanding helps bring a greater understanding of the story’s place in the scope of redemptive history. It’s not that Noah was a good guy among a bunch of bad guys, it’s that he was a bad guy to whom God showed grace—and through him, God saved for Himself a remnant. It’s an amazing illustration of God’s grace that is too easy to overlook.
At this point, I’ve read or reviewed nearly every title that’s been released from Cruciform Press. In doing so, I’ve noticed a consistent pattern that is perhaps best evidenced in “But God…”.
That is the strength of brevity.
Because “But God…” and all of the publisher’s titles are held to a strict word count, their authors are not afforded room to meander. They have to get to the point, which (I know from experience) can prove difficult. But in this book’s case, the result is a refreshingly concise, yet comprehensive biblical theology of grace that left this reader more in awe of the grace of God. I’d highly encourage any reader to get a copy of this book and discover for yourselves the importance of the words “But God.”
Title: “But God…”: The Two Words at the Heart of the Gospel
Author: Casey Lute
Publisher: Cruciform Press (2011)
An advanced electronic copy of this book was provided for review purposes by the publisher.
Perhaps the greatest obstacle to our usefulness is the false belief that our witness does not matter. This is especially a danger if we think a previous witness has been ineffective. I suppose even John might have thought that. After all, few people went to follow Jesus after John pointed him out. But there is a detail later in John’s Gospel that helps us to understand better. John 1:28 says, “These things took place in Bethany across the Jordan, where John was baptizing.” In John 10, we learn that Jesus at one time took His disciples back to that place: “He went away again across the Jordan to the place where John had been baptizing at first, and there he remained. And many came to him. And they said, John did no sign, but everything that John said about this man was true.’ And many believed in him there” (John 10:40-42). Despite his apparent failure, John the Baptist’s witness was not wasted; in God’s timing, it led many to be saved.
One person who might think poorly of her witness is a woman whose words were instrumental in my own salvation. I do not know her name and doubt that I could recognize her. One day, as I moved into an apartment, she was moving out next door. I carried one box of books to her car. After thanking me, she asked whether I was looking for a church to attend. My body language made it clear that I did not appreciate the question. So she quickly stammered, “If you are ever looking for a church, I would recommend this particular church a few blocks away.” With that, she drove off and I never saw her again. I have often imagined her kicking herself for her weak attempt to witness. But a few months later, when the Holy Spirit had prepared a way for the Lord into my heart, I remembered her words, went to that church, and, hearing the gospel there, I believed and was saved.
You may think you are just one “voice” and that your witness doesn’t matter. But if Jesus is the Word your voice brings-and if He is living in you and you know Him-then your witness is mighty to cast down strongholds and lead dying sinners to salvation.
Richard D. Phillips, Jesus the Evangelist (Kindle Edition—location 343)